WORCESTER – Earlier this week, ThisWeekinWorcester.com released its rankings of the 50 Most Dangerous Cities and Towns in Massachusetts per capita based on new crime data from the FBI.
TWIW requested from the Worcester Police Department information on how the department uses this information from the FBI, how the data is submitted to the FBI from the WPD, and how the WPD measures the safety of the City of Worcester with this data.
According to Worcester Police Chief Steven M. Sargent, “Our department relies on data provided by our Crime Analysis Unit. On a weekly basis our Command Staff meets with our Crime Analysis Unit to discuss strategies to reverse any emerging negative crime trends. We also rely on feedback and issues raised from our neighborhood watch groups to pinpoint areas of concern.”
“Once we identify problems or concerns in our neighborhoods, we work together to focus our resources in the area to solve immediate or long-term public safety issues. The Worcester Police Department uses various law enforcement strategies to address crime and disorder and we adjust our approaches as needed,” Sargent added.
According to WPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Kerry Hazelhurst, the data the WPD receives from the FBI is just one from several data sources that the department uses to help monitor Worcester’s crime landscape and how it changes over time.
“The WPD submits the data under the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Our data is sent to the State Police who validates and then sends the information to the FBI,” Hazelhurst said in an email on Wednesday, Sept 27.
Hazelhurst notes, however, that the FBI strongly advises against using the source as a sole indicator of crime trends.
On the FBI’s 2016 Crime in the U.S. website, it states, “Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing crime data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment.”
Hazelhurst uses the example of the category of “aggravated assault” from the FBI’s crime data. Hazelhurst said the category “…is incredibly broad. It can range from someone throwing a bottle of water at a friend, to a serious shooting.”
To use the FBI’s crime data as a sole source of information would be irresponsible, Hazelhurst said. “It would be misleading to compare Worcester to any other jurisdiction in terms of a certain ranking for a specific crime field,” he added.
According to Hazelhurst, the data can be useful when combined with data that is gathered by the WPD’s Crime Analysis Unit. Information is then communicated via direct communications with individual officers and units, weekly meetings with command staff, weekly department wide dissemination of the Tactical Analysis report, and maintenance of the Electronic Roll Call.
“Together this data is used by the department to inform and guide its proactive responses and preventative operations. Processed data can provide short term patterns, daily monitoring of crimes by type and geography to identify the location of emerging problems (patrol route monitor), identification of hot spots which in turn helps our officers to implement and deploy police resources more efficiently and effectively,” Hazelhurst said.
The WPD also points out that most violent crimes take place between a victim and offender who are typically known to one another, instead of being complete strangers. A fundamental understanding and knowledge of facts like these can be beneficial, according to Hazelhurst.
“Understanding these contextual facts can help dispel some of the most commonly held misconceptions that tend to add unnecessary fear when discussing violent crime numbers. As you know, looking at absolute violent crime numbers, without controlling for city population size, can be misleading about the relative safety of cities,” Hazelhurst said.
Although it’s the second largest city in New England, Worcester finished seventh in TWIW’s rankings of the 50 Most Dangerous Cities and Towns with a violent crime rate of 8.89 per capita. Worcester finished behind large cities like Springfield, Brockton and Fall River, and smaller populated areas like Chelsea, North Adams and Holyoke.
Sargent said, “Worcester remains one of the safest cities of its size in the northeast because of the hard work of our police officers and our city and community partners who collaborate with us to reduce crime and improve quality of life in all of our neighborhoods.”